The Mayor's Office recently released a real head scratcher of a statistic: less than 1% of streets in New York City, it claims, are "filthy." Huh? This bizarre claim left me with more questions than answers. What exactly constitutes a "filthy" street? What are the criteria and how are they measured? Does anyone else get strangely aroused by calling a street "filthy?"
In addition to questioning the purpose and process of gathering such a statistic, I also question the result. Less than 1% of streets in NYC are filthy? I think they're all pretty fucking filthy. I live near a group of homeless people who like to shit in pizza boxes and leave them on the sidewalk in front of the Panda Express. I feel like that's pretty filthy.
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A block away I found this rat on the sidewalk whose head had exploded. That’s also filthy.
A few months ago I was walking back from class and debating whether I should run some errands or head straight home. As I approached my apartment I saw a man standing in my doorway. Beneath him sat a large pile of shit, which I am assuming belonged to him. This was the only doorway to the building. I had recently been spat on by a crazy person, so I wasn't in the mood to politely ask this man if I could scoot around him and his poop to get inside. I decided to just keep walking and run those errands.
While running my errands I texted my landlord, who assured me that he would let the super know. However, I later remembered that our super had retired a few months prior.
I returned from my errands to find that the man had also urinated on the door, which had run through the crack under the door and collected in a foul-smelling puddle in the entryway. The poop was still there, likely due to the fact that we didn't have a super. With no other options, I was forced to carefully step over the pee and shit pile to get inside my building.
A few hours later, out of curiosity, I went downstairs to see whether it was still there. The poop had been moved around quite a bit and there was a pile of wet napkins nearby.
I surmised that someone had tried to pick up the poop with a handful of napkins, then grew discouraged when the fluid soaked through the napkins and dropped the entire soggy bundle, resulting in the moved-around but still present pile of shit in the doorway.
Which I think is pretty filthy.
Anyway, when I look out the window I see a 100% filth rate already, a far cry from the Mayor's Office's reported 0.7%. So what exactly did the Mayor’s Office report?
The Mayor’s Office of Operations uses a scorecard program which is over 50 years old and is meant to determine which streets need cleaning. They observe “block faces” (one side of a block) and determine the cleanliness of the street and sidewalk. One of the scores is “Filthy,” and the Mayor’s Office of Operations reported in the Preliminary Fiscal 2023 Mayor’s Management Report that only 0.7% of streets around the city (and 0.6% of sidewalks) were filthy so far in Fiscal Year 2023, which sounds like bullshit to me.
The Office of the State Comptroller must have had similar thoughts, because in September 2020 they released an audit of the Mayor's Office and the scorecard program to investigate their silly metrics and find out why the city is still always so disgusting.
According to the audit, "[the Department of Sanitation] uses Operations’ Scorecard Ratings as its sole performance measure for monitoring the sanitation operations, and cleaning efforts are increased in areas where Operations assessed poor Scorecard Ratings."
The audit also found that scorecard ratings were measured only by "drive-by inspections." So city inspectors from the Mayor's Office of Operations drive around and determine which blocks are "filthy," then the Department of Sanitation uses this as their sole metric to determine where to focus their cleaning efforts?
It's also hard to imagine that these drive-by inspections consist of anything more than some inspectors driving around smoking doobies all day, then circling random spots on the map and saying "here's where we found filth."
Upon digging into the report, however, I found that the reality was arguably worse. See the scoring criteria in the screenshot below:
The evaluation of a block face could yield one of three results:
Not acceptably clean
No in-between options? What a leap from "Not acceptably clean" to "filthy!" Is there no "Dirty" or "Soiled" option?
The scoring criteria also appears more concerned with the positioning and arrangement of litter than anything else. With criteria like "Littered with gaps between litter," "concentrated in spots; small gaps between piles," and "straight line along and over the curb," it looks more like some archaic form of trash astrology than official government business.
Do these city inspectors drive around and observe that a flattened rat, some dog shit, and a dead body rolled up in carpet have sufficient space between them and do not form a straight line over the curb, and thus the gods have deemed the street not filthy?
Are the McDonalds wrappers and used condoms arranged more like Gemini than like Pisces? These are all important questions they must quickly ask themselves while driving by each of the 8,200 block faces sampled throughout the city.
Another problem with the scorecard is its glaring omission of fecal matter. It seems to over-index on "Litter" without assigning any filth score to poop, either from man or from beast, in doorways or in pizza boxes. It's hard to take such a system seriously when the majority of New Yorkers have seen someone take a dump between two parked cars in the last month.
The auditors seemed to agree, stating that they still "observed unsanitary conditions (feces, vomit, soiled diapers, decaying animal/rodent carcasses) and instances of opened hydrants flushing litter through the streets," on blocks that had supposedly been cleaned by the DSNY the previous day.
So to sum it all up, people from the Mayor's Office drive all around New York City and note which blocks they think are filthy using a 50 year old scorecard. The Department of Sanitation looks at this information and uses it to determine which blocks need cleaning. The Department of Sanitation plans to clean those blocks but then doesn’t really do anything. The Office of the State Comptroller dunked on both the Mayor's Office and DSNY saying their system was bullshit and that the city is disgusting. And a guy shat on my doorstep and a rat exploded on the sidewalk but the Mayor's Office still thinks my street and sidewalk are acceptably clean.
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An in-depth investigation of defecation!?! You've outdone yourself here. I was really trying to block that whole experience from my memory, but I think you did the whole experience justice in this feces piece(s).
The rat is quite something. I used to be able to walk to work and almost every day I would see a decapitated, crushed, or otherwise mangled pigeon. I began to wonder if I should take them as a sign or warning. Then the pandemic happened. Likely unconnected, but it makes you think.